If you haven’t gotten enough of all-things rattlesnake over the last few weeks at Waurika and Apache, no worries. There is still more rattler action to be had in Oklahoma this coming weekend.

Called the “grandaddy of them all,” Okeene claims to have the oldest snake hunt in the world and will be having their 82nd annual Rattlesnake Hunt April 23-25. Okeene is located at the intersection of Highways 8 and 51 in Blaine County. It’s about a two-hour drive from Elgin, going up through Anadarko, Gracemont, Hinton, Geary and Watonga.

The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby will also be held the same weekend and is about an hour-and-a-half from Elgin, if you go out state Highway 62 through Cache and Altus and then northwest to Mangum. In most of the small Oklahoma towns featuring rattlesnake roundups a festival has also blossomed, featuring vendor booths and carnivals. Pits, with handlers, are available to see the snakes safely up close and usually snake meat is on the menu somewhere nearby. Many of the communities also rely on the festivals as a form of fundraising for local needs and projects.

Rattlesnake permit

For those wanting to go on a guided snake hunt, keep in mind that Oklahoma law requires a rattlesnake permit. However, persons with a current annual or lifetime hunting or combination hunting/fishing license are exempt from the rattlesnake permit. Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations can be found online at wildlifedepartment.com.

The festivals were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but in 2019, a 77-inch rattlesnake was brought in at the Okeene roundup. Mangum’s current record stands at 84 inches.

Medicine Park’s snake oil connection

Digging around in history archives brought up the name of Herb Pinack, from Medicine Park. He killed rattlesnakes and collected the fat from their sides and rendered the oil for alleged medical qualities. Pinack’s story was told in the April 3, 1938 edition of “The Oklahoman,” and retold April 8, 2013, by Mary Phillips, a columnist for the same newspaper.

In the 1938 article, Pinack said that rattlesnake oil was one of the most penetrating oils to ever be found and a small amount rubbed into a joint sore with rheumatism or dropped into an ear would give quick relief. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, wandering doctors would sell snake oil in medicine shows and the elixir was known as a healer of rheumatism, toothaches and earaches.

In traditional Chinese medicine, snake oil from water snakes was used to relieve pain and inflammation, according to several websites on the subject. Due to the high Omega-3 fatty acid content of the water snakes, the oil was used to treat arthritis and bursitis. There is no confirmation that rattlesnakes were a suitable substitute for Chinese water snakes and the high Omega-3 fatty acid found in them, but that didn’t stop the claims or the peddlers.

Pinack told a reporter that he had killed thousands of rattlesnakes in the Wichita Mountains in 36 years (at the time of the interview) and had made a hobby of collecting and selling the oil.

Did it work? From what I read, no one knows. Snake oil as an effective medicine has reportedly never been thoroughly tested.

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